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Owl Tree Theater for the People’s First Show Is “The Death of the Oldest Dog in the World” by Jesse Lowe

For its inaugural production, the Owl Tree Theater for the People of Cary, NC will present The Death of the Oldest Dog in the World, a new play written and directed by Cary resident Jesse A. Lowe, on Sept. 13-16 and 21 and 22 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC. Profits from the Sept. 13-16 performances will benefit Hospice of Wake County (http://www.hospiceofwake.org/), and profits from the Sept. 21st and 22nd shows will benefit the SPCA of Wake County (http://www.spcawake.org/).

“In 2005, I was living in Charleston WV; and I would walk along the Kanawha River back and forth to work,” recalls Jesse Lowe. “This gave me ample time to think about stuff … mostly about my own life and the choices I had made. In the midst of this personal reflection, a ‘what-if’ type of thought came to the surface … what if the oldest dog in the world died and it turned out he was not an ordinary dog? How does his death impact his family? From there, the story of this dog joined a highly personal narrative about the choice making, its consequences, and ruminating on what constitutes personal success.”

He adds, “Originally, the play went through several rounds with two editors … one in Minneapolis and the other in Europe. After the editors got done with it, the play had a public reading, produced by Mt. Pockets Theater in Morgantown, WV, in October 2009. From there, I made revisions based on feedback from the reading audience and ensemble.

“During recent rehearsal, three rounds of cuts were applied to the text to streamline the show,” says Lowe, who notes that he was “greatly assisted by cast members Mary Beth Hollman, Gus Allen, and Jeffrey Nugent.”

Other members of the cast include Brian Thacker, Danielle Snook, Jeanine Denning, Kurt Benrud, Michelle Corbitt, Nicola Lefler, Noelle Barnard Azarelo, Sonia Usatch-Kuhn, and Thom Haynes.

Playwright and director Jesse Lowe says, “The Death of the Oldest Dog in the World is an unexpected journey for the play’s quirky hero, Peter. He returns to his small Oregon coast hometown for a most unusual funeral — for the family dog. Peter discovers that he is under a curse, placed on him by the monster from under his childhood bed, which has rendered his life mediocre, and him, a failure.

“Aided by imaginary superheroes, Sasquatch, and spirit of his deceased pooch, Peter embarks on a quest to get his life back,” Lowe explains. “Along the way, he rediscovers his hometown, reconnects with his estranged parents … and redeems his life.”

Lowe adds, “At the start of the play, Peter is in Charleston, WV, where he discovers his current girlfriend’s infidelity. Confronted with this disappointment, his life becomes even more convoluted as he gets urgent text messages from his mother, summoning him back home to his small Oregon Coast hometown to attend the funeral for the family pooch, just deceased. Patches was the title holder of ‘World’s Oldest Dog’ and a celebrity pet due to his starring role on ‘Mikey & His Dog,’ a 1970s TV show.

“As Peter comes home,” Lowe points out, “his mother Eileen and [father] Norman, greet him … trying to pick up after 15 years of not seeing their son. Then the ghost of his dog shows up.”

In addition to dramatist and director Jesse Lowe, who doubles as costume designer for the show, the Owl Tree Theater for the People creative team for The Death of the Oldest Dog in the World includes assistant director Jeffrey Nugent, set designer Molly Eness, lighting designer Michael James Lefler, properties manager Michelle Corbitt, and stage manager Lisa Smith. The show also features original music by Justin Johnson.

Lowe admits, “I like to direct my writing. When I write the play, I see in my mind how it should be staged; and the two become intertwined.”

He adds, “This play is very fluid, magically hopping from places like Hollywood to North Jetty Beach to Super Villain Lairs. So, the set is modular and utilitarian in its pieces with blocks and benches. In the background is a wall of what looks like moving boxes, labeled with Peter’s things inside … implying that his life is never settled and always in transition. Like a Rubik’s cube, the boxes turn and reveal scenic surprises….

“The lighting … must be able to move from improbable setting to imagined setting … illuminating a TV soundstage, a chaotic nightmare, the warm light of October on the Oregon Coast, and special pivotal moments of choices and magic,” says Lowe. But he adds, “The light design is facile and able to make each scene special in its own way.”

As for costumes, Lowe says, “We call it band-shirt bingo. Peter and other characters in the play wear shirts from various Pacific Northwest and indie bands, tying into Peter’s deep love of music.

“Our non-human characters have full body animal/creature outfits, but the actor’s faces do not have makeup or masks,” says Jesse Lowe. “This is to basically play upon the concept that we as people tend to anthropomorphize animals … see emotions or feel an animal is talking to us.”

Lowe confides, “One of the major challenges [in staging The Death of the Oldest Dog in the World] was that I simply wrote a lot of play. The script was quite heavy …. Even after edits and work-shopping, the play had aspirations of the epic. To make the play manageable, cuts were necessary and caused a small challenge to actors as they had to revise their memorization.

“The other challenge,” says Lowe, “was difficulty in securing crew personnel to help with set changes. To address this, various members of the ensemble had to be drafted into doing those tasks. But everyone stepped up nicely to do the job and pulled together!”

He adds, “The play definitely is at home in Magic Realism. The production’s world is a reality that floats like a soap bubble on a sea of potential and unseen situations. So, the fantastical will walk into a scene, sit down, and have a conversation with our characters. Unreal situations become commonplace and magic lingers on the edge of the very air of the show.

“Audiences should also note that the play does have some adult humor and language,” says playwright and director Jesse Lowe. “Additionally, a strobe light is briefly used in the show.”

The Owl Tree Theater for the People presents THE DEATH OF THE OLDEST DOG IN THE WORLD, a new play written and directed by Jesse A. Lowe, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13-15, 2 p.m. Sept. 16, and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 and 22 at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.

TICKETS: $9.27 for one ticket and $14.40 for two tickets.

BOX OFFICE: 919-473-3139 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/262145.

INFORMATION: owlcreektheater@gmail.com.

SHOW/PRESENTER: http://owltreetheater.weebly.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/OwlTreeTheaterForThePeople.

VENUE: http://www.cgtheatre.com/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.cgtheatre.com/directions.

NOTE: Profits from the Sept. 13-16 performances will benefit Hospice of Wake County (http://www.hospiceofwake.org/), and profits from the Sept. 21st and 22nd shows will benefit the SPCA of Wake County (http://www.spcawake.org/).

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://owltreetheater.weebly.com/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/OwlTreeTheaterForThePeople (Facebook).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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